Bernard H. Cochran: Political morality a benefit to society

February 1, 2014 

J. Peder Zane’s conclusion in his Jan. 29 column “Politics and morality – a dangerous mix” that, “Morality has almost no place in our politics,” is on target if describing the current situation in Raleigh and Washington but incorrect if it’s regarded as the only proper relationship. Sadly, Zane’s understanding of church-state “separation” is wrong-headed.

Church-state “neutrality” is preferable, which means that government “may neither help nor hinder religion.” Belief of any sort may not be deemed legally unacceptable, though practice, in limited circumstances – human sacrifice – might well be.

It also means that no religious tradition may “politic” for financial gain nor for the enactment of laws supporting sectarian beliefs or practices. Example: In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court struck down the law forbidding the sale of contraceptives – a sectarian law that violated the rights of disagreeing religious minorities and other citizens.

Morality, aggressively exercised in the political realm, is at the heart of Judeo-Christian and Islamic ethics. Slavery ended when moral suasion – from Quaker and other faith traditions – changed society.

Martin Luther King Jr. embraced the position that morality in politics can eliminate unjust laws. Campaigning for morality in politics, not for sectarian advantage but for the common good, will continue to make this world “a better place.”

Bernard H. Cochran

Professor emeritus, Department of Religion and Philosophy, Meredith College


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